Emmett Till: The Murder That Changed America

For every citizen to have the same importance, privileges and prospects would mean to have equality. The lack thereof became the determination to obtain for black woman and men in the US, on a platform known as the Civil Rights Movement. Contrary to popular belief by foreign leaders, the United States wasn’t the democratic and free nation it portrayed. Under the booming economy, voting polls, and civil liberties was the injustices of Southern America. Nations began expressing their disappointment with the US after discrimination and division overwhelmed media. The gruesome lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till drew a close eye on the United States and become a catalyst for the emerging Civil Rights Movement fueled by outraged African-Americans and extensive press coverages around the world.

To give a brief background on the story, Emmet Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago Illinois where white supremacy was obscure. He was an only child of mother Mamie Till and late father Louis. Emmett was visiting relatives in 1955 and arrived at his uncle Moses Wright’s home on August 21st in Money, Mississippi. After a long day of picking cotton for his Uncle, Emmett and family head to Bryant’s Grocery on the 24th to buy some drinks and gum. According to one account from A Death in the Delta, Emmett was bragging about having a white girlfriend back home. They decide to put his ego to the test and dare him to talk to the white woman running the store. Till entered the store and proceeds to make inappropriate conversation with Carolyn Bryant; it is uncustomary for a black male to even approach a white woman during this time. Bryant is believed to have been searching for a gun and that’s when Till said “Bye, baby” to Carolyn, the wife of store owner Roy Bryant. Before departing he is said to have “wolf whistled” at her to show up his relatives. Till’s family then sped away in a car when they saw the graveness of the situation; Emmett still unaware of the trouble he just caused even though Mamie told him about the barriers between the races in Mississippi before he left.

The family wonder if anything will come out of this incident. “That was Wednesday. So that Thursday passed, nothing happened. Friday passed, nothing happened. Saturday, nothing happened. So, we forgot about it.” Sunday August 28th came, and at 3 A.M. Roy Bryant and his brother kidnap Emmett Till beat him, shoot him, and dump him in the Tallahatchie River. Three days later Till’s unrecognizable body is recovered with a cotton ginning fan tied around his neck with barbed wire and a shot to the head. During this time the men are imprisoned on suspected kidnapping and a murder charge will be added.

Mamie Till insists the body be sent back to Chicago so she could see her son and monumentally opts to have an open casket so everyone can see what they did to her child. “After the body arrived...I decided that I wanted the whole world to see what I had seen. There was no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.” Thousands of people flood his funeral to see just how severe the traditional slavery mindset is still a custom in the South.

The acquitted charges against two murderers and lack of involvement from the government gartered massive amounts of backlash. “The Murder and Trial of Emmet Till”, goes in depth to show the deference of African Americans, even in a court of law said to be unbiased. The main gripe was the acquittal of Roy Bryant and Milam on a kidnapping murder case with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. The proceedings are said to have been tampered with in a way that vital witnesses were deleted, and jurors were coerced by the White Citizens Council. Dr. J. H. Jackson attacks government personnel when he speaks to the way in which Mississippi Police dealt with the case. The uproar of African American journalists and protests taken nationwide rally the community to start the change that should’ve already been accomplished. Audiences around the globe were angered by the court decision and the nation for not investigating the matter further. The Civil Rights Movement now had the attention it needed to push for the equality is so desperately required.

Emmett Till became the initial figure head for change. The public “turns a crucifixion into a resurrection” for the rebirth of the black community, proving the power of the Civil Rights Movement to have been influenced and strengthened by Emmett and Mamie Till. Reverend Jesse Jackson juxtaposes the loss of Emmett to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and amounts the death to hold the equal value to the establishment of the universe, The Big Bang Theory. Hardships and philosophies of people alive during this period, led the black communities’ determination to conquer oppression and guarantee no lives are taken in vain.

With the murder arose activists who heroically went against the traditional social-norms mere month after the brutal killing of Till. Among them way Rosa Park and the population in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The need for the boycott should’ve been obsolete by this time due to the outlaw of the “separate but equal” ruling, further corroborating frustrations of a short-coming in the United States.

The murder was a pivotal moment in the rally for African American Rights. The year prior the black community was able to revert the ruling of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case calling for “separate but equal” services. With this already accomplished the fight was now to have this decision enforced and instituted into daily routines; the murder clearly showing that it was not. It was custom for blacks to stand down and move out of the way for white people and to avoid under all costs looking a white female in the eye. However, the outpour of media coverage wakened a rather large audience unable to turn a blind eye to this incident. The St. Louis Argus and The Chicago Defender were among the many to spread the photo and story to change history. 

16 December 2021
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